The Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapping story makes me want to weep. How can pockets of the world continue to resist efforts to educate women? Aren’t the men of Boko Haram (translated “Western education is a sin”) also fathers, brothers, husbands and sons? Would they enslave their own mothers, sisters, wives and daughters? I grieve for the parents who wanted their daughters educated and instead lost them to these madmen.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to thank my own mother and father for educating me. My mother’s mother (and all the generations that preceded her) never went to college. My mother dropped out to have a family–starting with me–after she married my dad. She nevertheless encouraged me and my eight siblings to obtain a college degree and couldn’t be prouder that several daughters and granddaughters have gone beyond that to attain advanced degrees.
The photo above is of my daughter Sydney at a recent year end gathering of the Mormon students at Harvard Law School. The entire student body at HLS is 49% women, but the Mormon group is clearly skewed towards men. That’s not because Mormons don’t believe in educating women–46% of the students at BYU are women and 1/3 of the students at the BYU law school are women—but there is a strong cultural bias towards starting families early and a pervasive expectation that women will stay home to raise children. Every woman struggles with the question of work/life balance but for Mormon women there is less support to figure out the work part of the equation so many girls interrupt their education to marry and have children.
As I was finishing up my junior year at BYU, a boy I was dating told me that my intention to go to law school when I graduated was misguided, perhaps even sinful. He said that the right thing for me to do was to get married—to him, of course—and start having children. He was surprised when I not only refused to take his advice/proposal but broke off our relationship. Fortunately, kidnapping was not an option.
Over time I suspect larger numbers of Mormon women will start to fill graduate school ranks, much as they have undergraduate. I say that because one of the key tenets of the Mormon faith is that “the glory of God is intelligence.” Also because there is such a strong legacy of smart Mormon women doing heroic things to raise their families and develop their communities. These women—like my grandmothers, my mother, aunts and mother-in-law—may not have had extended formal educations but they nevertheless provided examples of curiosity, wisdom and an enthusiasm for learning even as they tended to the home front. I wanted to do right by them and I expect so will my daughters and son and their children.
So back to the Nigerian schoolgirls. What can be done for them and other women denied educational opportunities? Donations to Kiva or organizations that support education for women are a step in the right direction. You might also consider spending this Sunday—Mother’s Day—praying for one of the missing Nigerian school girls. You can sign up to pray for a specific girl—including Tabitha, Ruth, Aisha, Blessing or one of the nameless ninety-six–here. I’ve chosen “Beloved Daughter 58” to coincide with my own birth year and to recognize how lucky I was to be born into a family who made sure this beloved daughter was educated.